In this post, we're pleased to introduce a guest blogger. Welcome, Azamara cruiser Deirdre!
This is the story of our ten days on Azamara Journey. Our voyage began in Lisbon, ended in Barcelona and stopped along the way in Cadiz, Gibraltar, Valencia, Menorca, Port Vendres and Palamos.
So many factors go into choosing which Azamara cruise to take. Time. Weather. Number of days. Promotions. Ease of getting to embarkation and departure ports. These are all practical reasons for booking. And then there's one irresistible driving force that compels you to book THE cruise. For me, it was Carcassonne. On the Journey itinerary "Alcazar to Gaudi," we'd be docking in Port Vendres, and I'd see the fabled castle, the castle to end all castles. There! This was the cruise for me and Rob, my agreeable husband, said "Yes, book." And that was it.
We arrived in Lisbon three days prior. I love Lisbon. I think it’s one of Europe’s hidden gems. The cobblestones glisten in the sunlight. The Fado music is hauntingly beautiful. The food is simple, pure, delicious, and surprisingly inexpensive. There are interesting museums and castles. The people are welcoming. What’s not to love about Lisbon? It’s a great place to spend time before embarking.
The first stop, Cadiz, is a stone’s throw from the gracious and lovely city of Seville. If cities could be ladies, Seville would be a gracious and elegant one. We visited Alcazar, the elaborately detailed palace which will be featured on an episode of the TV show Game of Thrones. We’d have liked Seville even if we didn’t know about the show. We also found the fantastic waterfront promenade in Cadiz, not far from where the Journey docked.
Next, we stopped in Gibraltar. I have an inexplicable fondness for the mega rock and will happily choose any voyage that brings me there. Our plan was to hike the Mediterranean Steps, a path up to the summit. Weather reports gathered before leaving the USA said the weather would be in the 70s (F). Yet once onboard, our daily newsletter said high 80s. I did not believe it. We hiked. We sweated and wilted all the way up to the summit where a Gibraltar cabbie spotted us and told us in no uncertain terms to get in his cab. NOW. “I won’t even charge you," he said. I can’t even imagine how bedraggled we must have looked! We’ll climb Gibraltar again, sure, but maybe not in such heat.
An overnight stay in Valencia took us to a castle in Xativa and an underground river the following day. This is one thing I particularly love about Azamara: the overnight stays that allow so much time to explore. I wasn’t impressed with Valencia the first time I saw it (I can’t imagine why), but two days there changed my opinion. Valencia has it all: narrow higgledy-piggledy streets in the medieval quarter and grand boulevards and buildings just beyond. Delicious tapas and shopping, too! And did I mention the caves? We’re cave junkies. It seems every Azamara voyage we go on finds us in a cave and this was no exception. We took the Azamara Shore Excursions tour to St. Joseph Cave and floated down a serene, silent river. It was a beautiful experience.
I had no expectations of our next port, Mahon, Menorca. We booked another Azamara Shore Excursions tour (cave, of course) and I left it at that. Much to my delight, Menorca proved itself to be the island that stole the show (to the point that we have another Azamara voyage booked next year that brings us back!) Menorca is beautiful and unspoiled. You will see endless fields with rocky walls dividing them. Glorious vistas to the sea. Ancient ruins. Beaches that will take your breath away. Small villages that will enchant. What you won’t see is rampant commercialism and high rise condos. That’s not what Menorca is about. It’s about spectacular cliffside caves like Xoroi.
Ah, Carcassonne, the lynchpin that made me book this itinerary. I saw it! Did I love it? No. I did like it, though. I’ve come to the conclusion that I prefer castles ruined to castles restored, but that’s ok. It’s off my bucket list and that makes me happy. What we did love was the village of Collioure, darling of the French Impressionist painters. We had more than enough time to walk there after our excursion ended and it made for a marvelous end to our French day.
Our final port before debarking in Barcelona was a hard one: Palamos. What to do... See Dali’s home? Visit medieval Girona? Decisions, decisions! We chose Girona because there’s something wonderful about a city that retains so much of its centuries old roots. It did not disappoint. We were lucky enough to be there on a holiday and we saw people walking around with Catalan flags proudly draped around their shoulders. Dancing, too. Our tour guides demonstrated the Catalan dance that we saw in the squares and though none of us could duplicate the steps, we enjoyed watching the footwork. We left Girona sad that we couldn’t stay longer but we had things to do: it was off to fabulous Barcelona that afternoon!
Beautiful Barcelona. I would book an Azamara cruise for this one reason alone: When an Azamara ship goes to Barcelona, she parks at the foot of Las Ramblas steps from the Christopher Columbus statue. Rob and I literally walked off the ship and into the city. No taxi required! We were already there, ready to explore this vibrant, heady city which never sleeps. You want it? Barcelona has it: Food, history, beauty, art, entertainment. Barcelona is a feast for the senses and a firecracker way to end a ten day voyage that brought happiness every single day.
Deirdre and Rob Norton, from Indianapolis, sailed on the Azamara Journey September 3, 2014, from Lisbon to Barcelona. Avid travelers and cruisers, this is their third Azamara Club Cruise in 9 months. Deirdre's cruise review on Cruise Critic was so popular she was invited to be a guest blogger. This is the first of two posts on their Mediterranean cruise.
If you're feeling inspired by Deirdre's travels (we certainly are!), click here to browse for your own voyage. And don't forget, these cruises are eligible for a free double upgrade until December 14, 2014.